Bucci, P., "Building believable robots : an exploration of how to make simple robots look, move, and feel right." M.Sc. Thesis. University of British Columbia, 2017
Humans have an amazing ability to see a ‘spark of life’ in almost anything that moves. There is a natural urge to imbue objects with agency. It’s easy to imagine a child pretending that a toy is alive. Adults do it, too, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Leveraging this instinct is key to building believable robots, i.e. robots that act, look, and feel like they are social agents with personalities, motives, and emotions. Although it is relatively easy to initiate a feeling of agency, it is difficult to control, consistently produce, and maintain an emotional connection with a robot. Designing a believable interaction requires balancing form, function and context: you have to get the story right. In this thesis, we discuss (1) strategies for designing the bodies and behaviours of simple robot pets; (2) how these robots can communicate emotion; (3) and how people develop narratives that imbue the robots with agency. For (1), we developed a series of four robot design systems to create and rapidly iterate on robot form factors, as well as a tools for improvising and refining expressive robot behaviours. For (2), we ran three studies wherein participants rated robot behaviours in terms of arousal and valence under different display conditions. For (3), we ran a study wherein expert performers improvised emotional ‘stories’ with the robots; also one of the studies in (2) included soliciting narratives for the robot and its behaviours.